By Dr. Stacey Bone, DVM
One of the most commonly asked questions we are asked as veterinarians is, “Is there anything I can do you help prevent arthritis and keep my dog’s joints healthy?” It is actually a question that I personally love to get because it shows that a pet owner wants to be proactive and address a problem before it starts. The short answer to this question is “YES!” there are absolutely things that we can do to maintain good joint health and prevent arthritis or other joint issues. The long answer is what we will cover in the blog today. It is important to make the statement that there are some forms of arthritis that you cannot prevent and furthermore you can never permanently prevent arthritis...the best that we can hope is delay the onset of arthritis.
For the purpose of this blog, I will assume that you are looking for aids to help prevent the form of arthritis that we see most often in older and large breed dogs. The medical term for this type of arthritis is degenerative joint disease (DJD) and thankfully, is one that can positively respond to somewhat with preventatives. I also have to mention that it is important to know that the cartilage of humans and dogs are different so a lot of the studies in the use of joint supplements in humans cannot be applied to our veterinary patients.
What it comes down to it is that there are two main forms of prevention for DJD. These include joint supplements and diet. I won’t give any brand recommendations for joint supplements or diets and recommend you speak with your vet if your dog is showing mild lameness or you are worried about the development of arthritis.
The world of supplements for veterinary medicine is a bit like the Wild, Wild West. There are a lot of them out there to choose from and many have not been tested for efficacy. When you are looking for a joint supplement, there are a few key ingredients that I would recommend making sure are included in the supplement that you select. The most common and well-known are Glucosamine and Chondroitin. We do not know a lot about these two and they have shown some efficacy in reducing joint inflammation but the studies are a bit outdated so I recommend using supplements with “more” in them. The new horizon is looking at avocado soybean unsaponifiables. These are showing very strong promise as potent anti-inflammatory agents on the joints; I would strongly recommend finding a product that includes this as an aid. The third thing to make sure is always present are the Omega 3’s (EPA and DHA) which we have known for years have anti-inflammatory effects for many of the systems of the body. A really amazing study showed that you can reduce NSAID doses up to 25% when you give appropriate amounts of fish oils. The problem is that it takes high doses of fish oil to get the levels in the body to that which will affect the joints so it is best to find a concentrated source.
Another easy method of prevention comes in the form of diets. There are many companies that have created diets that address mobility issues in dogs and cats. I strongly recommend looking at Hill’s, Purina, or Royal Canin diets as these are the most likely to have actually scientific data to back the ingredients they have in their diets. In actuality, the study above about reducing doses of meds up to 25% was done with a Hill’s joint diet. I love diets because they are about the easiest thing you can do to help your pet. All dogs eat and all dogs eat every day. We have to buy food. Why not pick a food that actually will do something for your pet? It seems like a no-brainer.
I would also recommend reducing the risk of joint injury as a good prevention. Low impact exercise is great for older pets. Using PawFriction as a product to reduce the risk of slipping is a good prevention. Keeping your dog thin and addressing any orthopedic issues such as luxating patellas or ligament injuries is paramount.
We have covered the categories of products to aid with arthritic issues, so now the other important question to ask yourself is “When should I start giving my dog a supplement/diet?” How well these work depends on how early in the disease process you start them but I am not advocating every dog go on joint treatments. I think regular vet visits and starting treatments at the first sign of joint discomfort is really important. I think an argument could be made for using supplements in any large breed dog or breeds that are higher risk but I wouldn’t really consider starting them until the middle aged or unless you have a reason to use them sooner. Again, it is important to be proactive so watching your dog closely and being candid with your veterinarian about any arthritic signs that you might be seeing can go a long way keeping your pet’s joints healthy for a long time!